July 27, 2012

MLB Doesn’t Need Instant Replay

I turned on Sportscenter the other night, and one of the anchors was talking about how the endings of close NBA games tend to be dragged out for what seems like hours. I think the word he used was “interminable.” I figured he was about to announce that the NBA commissioner was doing something to quicken the pace, but no. It turns out the new NBA rules increase the number of plays that are eligible for instant replay review, potentially increasing the length of the average game, as well as those pivotal moments at the end

I couldn’t help but wonder about instant replay’s place in baseball. As it is, instant replay can only be used in the MLB to determine boundary home run calls (fair/foul, in/out, fan interference). Some people are adamantly for further uses of instant replay, while others are just as strongly opposed to it. I’m near the fence on this issue, but definitely on the opposed side.

I understand the argument for instant replay. You’re sitting at home, watching your favorite team. It’s a tie ball game in the bottom of the eight, and your team’s leadoff man is on first. On the first pitch, he makes a move for second, but gets thrown out. Before you throw your remote across the room, you watch the replay, which clearly shows the runner was safe. It wasn’t even close! How did that blind, confused, ignorant man ever get a job as an umpire? If he could just step into the clubhouse, watch the replay, and reverse the call, all would be right in the world. Right?

I know exactly how it feels to be in that situation. How many times has Michael Bourn been called out incorrectly this season? I lost count early on. If instant replay could be used to correct judgment calls on the base paths, Armando Galarraga would have a perfect game under his belt, and Jim Joyce would get a lot less hate mail.

While I’m all for the right call being made, I don’t think it’s the most important issue here. There are some really good reasons not to use instant replay. First, as mentioned above in reference to the NBA, instant replay extends game time. Baseball is the only major sport without a defined time limit, so in theory the games could last for days (and sometimes they do). Every time instant replay is used, it pauses and extends the length of the game. Some games already last three and a half or four hours. Our (and by our, I mean the human race) attention spans are dwindling, so I think it would be bad for the growth of the sport for the games to get any longer.

Next, there’s the ‘slippery slope’ argument. If instant replay is expanded, where do we draw the line for using technology in baseball? Boston manager Bobby Valentine has made the argument for automated ball and strike calls. Now, Bobby Valentine has done and said some pretty questionable things this season, but he doesn’t seem to be alone in his stance. LA first basemen James Loney has predicted the use of electronic umpires in the future. Can you imagine a game called entirely by computers? Could we even call it baseball?

Here’s my last point: human error should be a part of the game. Take the human error out of the game, and you can forget about controversy. Forget about furious arguments and ejections. How could a manager argue if every call is proved correct? Also, human error might make the game flawed, but it doesn’t flaw the game in a way that gives any one team an advantage. Human error is fair. Take, for example, the first two games of this week’s series against the Marlins, both won by just one run, and both featuring some very close, controversial calls. Perhaps with an expanded use of instant replay, Jason Heyward is called safe at first in the ninth and the Braves rally to win. On the other hand, in the second game, maybe the instant replay proves that Ruggiano to be safe on that close play at the plate. Every team in the league has to deal with bad calls, and every team gets a break here and there.

Baseball should be a reflection of life. No one is perfect. People make mistakes. Sometimes you do everything right and you still can’t win. An overuse of instant replay could suck the life out of the game. I’ll take the wildcard factor of umpiring over the cut and dry clarity of instant replay any day.



8 Responses to “MLB Doesn’t Need Instant Replay”

  1. 1
    Bubdylan Says:

    “Can you imagine a game called entirely by computers?”


    “Could we even call it baseball?”


    Just my opinion.

    “Forget about furious arguments and ejections.”

    You mean, you have this problem that is bad enough that the people involved frequently throw temper tantrums, and one objection to solving the problem is that the temper tantrums would stop??

    The “it all evens out” argument is likewise a poor one. We could decide the outcome of baseball games in many ways that would all even out. Flip coins, draw straws, pull fans from each team out of the stands and let them armwrestle for the win. What you want is for the skill and execution of the baseball players to decide the outcome of the game as often as possible. It dilutes the game to have it otherwise.


    “Baseball should be a reflection of life…”

    I agree. And everything from the horseless carriage to this blog on the Internet has been facilitated by technological advances that flew in the face of tradition. Can you even imagine a system of travel that took you from New York to California in two days? Could we even call it “riding”? 8)

  2. 2
    Jared Says:

    The “it all evens out” argument is appropriate. At least umpires are making calls based on what they saw. Bubdylan’s suggestion of using arm wrestling or a coin toss is absurd. Using instant replay is not the way to ensure that the skill and execution of the players decide the outcome of the game. Consistent skill and execution is what will ensure that the the outcome is decided by skill and execution. Let me explain my redundant statement. Unfortunately, there may be times when one decision will go wrong once in a long while if instant replay is not used. Over the course of a season, however, the superior skill and execution of better teams will put them at the top of the division. If you’re relying on the outcome of close calls to win games, you probably shouldn’t be in the post-season.

    Bubdylan interprets things a little too literally. When we say that baseball should be a reflection of life, we mean that baseball should reflect the troubles and difficulties we face in life and give us a small analogy of those situations that we face in our daily lives. Anyone would agree that life isn’t fair. Maybe sometimes baseball isn’t fair. In a given situation, you may have a better view or understanding than the person who must make a decision concerning that situation–the umpire. They are put there for a reason and their words goes, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Perhaps it would be better to say, “Baseball should be a reflection of the human character.” Sometimes you get a bad break, but you’ve got to keep going.(Think Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech, 1939)

    The decision to use instant replay is a decision to forego human thinking and understanding. Although, many times in our crazy world, many people seem all too willing to do exactly that. For how many years did players and clubs have to just take the bad calls as they came and go on playing the game? I think there are many fans who would enjoy going back to see their heroes–the likes of Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Lou Gehrig & Ted Williams to name a few–play the game even if it meant no television coverage, no walk-on music, no instant stats, and no instant replay.

  3. 3
    Mike Says:

    Thanks for the passionate comments, guys. You both make good points.

    @Bubdylan- I see what you mean about the temper tantrums, and most people would probably agree with you. And that might also help speed up the game, but I really enjoy arguments between coaches and umps. It gives the game a spark of energy and excitement.

    @Jared- You’re spot on by saying “Baseball should be a reflection of the human character.” Well put.

  4. 4
    Mike Says:

    Maybe I’m just old fashioned.

  5. 5
    Jared Says:

    On temper-tantrums and arguments–Last week was the anniversary of George Brett’s pine-tar home run. We would have missed out on that if a mechanical umpire had checked all the bats before a batter steps in. But it makes you think about what the Yankees did. It’s pretty much agreed that Yankees’ manager Billy Martin knew about Brett’s excessive use of pine-tar but didn’t point it out until it helped his cause. Makes you think about the way people act in different situations. And we wouldn’t have any of it if we had some kind of automated umpiring system.

  6. 6
    Bubdylan Says:

    I know we would lose a lot of eccentric moments if we had robot umpires. But eccentricity in itself isn’t all that valuable. We could make the runners go backwards every third inning if we wanted neat memories.

    I know I’m being a little silly about it. But I think the skills on display in MLB are the main attraction. They are world class, and if that wasn’t the main thing, we could just pile up at minor league games and save a world of money.

    And having every strike called a strike, every ball called a ball, and every safe runner safe and out runner out, would excite me to no end. It’s a game of inches. To me, the closer those inches get to being precisely interpreted, the more elegant the game is.

    Just, in my arrogant opinion. 🙂

  7. 7
    Bubdylan Says:

    It just makes me a little sick when a strike goes right down the middle, as it did tonight on Freeman I think, and is called a ball. I see it right there on tv, it’s right in the heart of the strike zone, and what’s more, it was strike three. Umpire lazily stands up. “Ball.” Huh? How do you miss that call? And it happens a dozen times per game. I can count the times when I thought the ump missed the call, but then I was wrong about it when they showed it on K-Zone, on two hands. When they look wrong, they’re usually wrong. And I’m not a trained professional.

    Can’t understand putting up with that if we have an alternative.

    I’m pretty old fashioned, too, Mike. I have uber-conservative impulses on most everything. But this issue, and the designated hitter, are a couple of the rare exceptions.

  8. 8
    Jared Says:

    The only problem with the K-zone and pitch-tracker and whatever else they got is that those things don’t see the pitch from the umpire’s perspective. You can’t place a camera directly in front of the strike zone because the pitcher would block our view. This means that even these pitch placement graphics have a slightly skewed view that is looking through the strike zone at an angle. Of course, some are easy to call because they are obvious, but those aren’t usually the pitches in question. It’s the pitches on the edge that often cause a stir. And I sometimes wonder if a centerfield camera looking through the strike zone at an angle can always properly place such close calls.

    I started giving the umpires a bit more credit when I began to understand that the strike zone is 3-dimensional. I think many people think of it as a window through which a pitch must travel in order to be considered a strike. Actually the strike zone is an area of space above the plate. The fact is that a pitch can potentially enter the strike zone from the side(perhaps from a sidearm pitcher) or from above(as with a good curveball).

    I guess we are both old-fashion and conservative in our own ways. But I can’t believe you’re in favor of the designated-hitter. I think that take so much away from the spirit, and athleticism, of the game. There was a time when pitchers weren’t so weak in batting skills. He may be an exception but Don Drysdale had 218 hits and 29 home runs in his career. Now we mostly cross our fingers and hope that the pitcher won’t pop up the bunt.

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